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Vivitrol’s New and Controversial Role in Prisons

When I was in prison, the majority of inmates struggled with substance abuse. And because the prison system did very little (if anything at all) to rehabilitate us, it wasn’t unusual for those who were released to almost immediately overdose or return to prison a few months later with a new drug offense.

Thankfully, the prison system has finally opened its eyes to the staggering recidivism rate and realized the urgent need to take action. Recently, jails and prisons around the country have started administering Vivitrol, an injectable form of naltrexone, in hopes that newly released inmates can stay off drugs once they enter “the free world.”

Vivitrol and the Prison System

Vivitrol blocks opioid receptors in the brain, preventing an euphoric high. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for opioid dependence in 2010, it has also been shown to reduce cravings, which can trigger a relapse.

Correctional facilities partnered with Alkermes, the drug’s manufacturer, and they have agreed to provide the first injection between two and seven days before an inmate’s release. He or she is then sent into the community, armed with a comprehensive recovery plan.

Proponents believe Vivitrol programs are a revolutionary way of tackling the opioid epidemic, as the benefits of maintaining treatment for at least six months are significant.

According to at least one study, participants who received a Vivitrol injection once per month for six months were opiate-free 90 percent of the time, said Emily Feinstein, the director of Health, Law and Policy at The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

“Those who do use it six months are much less likely to be opiate positive, less likely to be incarcerated and more likely to be working,” Feinstein said.

Arguments on Both Sides

Despite the success of these programs, there are naysayers. Vivitrol is by far the most expensive medication treatment for opioid dependency. A single dose costs around $1,000, whereas methadone is roughly $350 per month and Suboxone is around $400. There’s also the issue of accessibility. According to the Department of Corrections, people who receive Vivitrol in jail will also get help applying for Medicaid so they can continue the shots after release. But in some cases, newly released inmates can’t get approved for Medicaid and struggle to obtain their next monthly dose.

Despite the arguments for and against the drug, it’s important to remember that Vivitrol is not an immediate cure to opioid dependency. However, according to those who have used it, the drug does give people a fighting chance – providing them with the ability to think about something other than the overwhelming desire to get high.

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